Ask WALKING's Mark Fenton

Legs of an athlete
I'm an avid walker and aerobics instructor with a muscular build. Though I'm fairly lean, my legs and lower torso don't match my upper body. My arms, chest and back are toned, but my leg muscles are thick and bulky despite all the exercise I fit in. A typical week includes several walks from 30 to 60 minutes on top of teaching step, water aerobics and two strength classes. I also start my day with 10 minutes of squats, lunges and crunches. Is there anything I can do about my legs?

Chery O'Malley
Simpsonville, S.C.

Fenton says:

Think Brandi Chastain. Some people feel the ideal is slender legs, but the recent photographs of the U.S. women's soccer team are a reminder that real athletes have real muscles. You have a wonderfully athletic lifestyle and an athletic physique to go along with it.

However, if a muscle repeatedly goes through a limited range of motion, it can shorten and strengthen only in that range, says Jim Wharton, developer of active-isolated (AI) stretching. Consider these options:

1. Replace morning lunges and squats with activities like yoga and AI stretching, which focus on full range of motion. A good resource is The Whartons' Stretch Book (Random House, 1996).

2. Replace one or two of your power-oriented classes, like step or strength, with an endurance-oriented class. Look into Walk Reebok's distance-training programs (call 800-REEBOK-1, visit www.reebok.com, or check out your local YMCA).

How can I be sure walking is a real workout?
Is walking really a good workout? No, I mean really good. As soon as I started to become known as a walking expert, I started hearing that question. Aerobics instructors at clinics asked it. Matt Lauer asked it when I was on the "Today" show. Even my mother asked it.

The answer is simple: I feel that walking is the ultimate workout, because it's effective for the fit and unfit alike. Unfit people benefit at even an easy pace. But if you crank up your speed, it can be one of the toughest workouts around. Just ask U.S. racewalker Curt Clausen, who broke through with a fourth-place finish in the 50K walk at August's World Track and Field Championships. He averaged about 8 mph for 31 miles (try running that fast) and by lab tests is one of the fittest people in the world.

Measuring up
To assure you're walking fast enough to be "working out," I recommend using a heart-rate monitor. Monitors are easy to use, and prices are reasonable as low as $70. Though athletes like Clausen use a monitor on every workout, you don't have to try it once or twice a week to inspire you to a faster pace.

Even better, every three weeks try walking a mile in a specific time, say 15 minutes. A decreasing heart rate will reveal your improving fitness. You'll know in your heart that walking really is a great workout. The next time you see her, tell my mom.

For heart-rate monitors: Polar, (800) 227-1314, www.polarusa.com; Acumen, (800) 852-7823, www. acumeninc.com. To congratulate Clausen, write to ARCO Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, CA 91915.


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